Posted by: patenttranslator | October 16, 2011

If I Were Not a Self-Employed Translator I Would Be an Unemployed Former Employee

I read in a comment on a blog somewhere that the typical Wall Street banker must see people around him as ATM (automated teller machine) cards. I think that this commenter was probably right. You have to figure out what the PIN (personal identification number) to that card is to get your hands on the cash in the account. People who have no cash in the bank and who can’t get credit either would be of no interest to such a banker. The PIN that you have to figure out is usually some combination of greed, gullibility and helplessness, whether you are a banker designing a “flexible reverse mortgage product” that will make an old lady homeless in a few years, or a scammer working out of an Internet Café in Nigeria. Both are basically using the same method to achieve the same purpose.

I think that this is what the Occupy Wall Street (Occupy London, Occupy Tokyo, Occupy Rome, Occupy Berlin, Occupy Prague …) movement is about. There is something terribly wrong with a global civilization that views the purpose of everything as profit, profit and more profit … mostly for the people who are in charge of designing the rules of the game, with only a few crumbs left over for the unwashed masses.

Freelance translators such as myself are in a somewhat better position than traditional employees in this global dog-eat-dog enterprise. For one thing, although we can lose a customer or two, we cannot be fired from our job. Unlike most employees, we can also refuse to accept rules that we don’t like and create our own rules. Just because most translators work mostly for very low rate for translation agencies using memory management tools which will eat even more of their final payment based on wonderful tools like fuzzy matches and such does not mean that I have to do that too. Or that I will have to do that forever if that is what I am doing now.

The global environment that was created by high-speed Internet in the last decade or so has some disadvantages, but also many advantages for freelancers. For example, even if you work for an agency, not all of them are greedy ogres they are made out to be (although most of them probably are). Very small agencies are often run by more intelligent people who don’t base every business decision on the concept of maximum profit. You can tell them easily: they pay good rates and on time because they know that it is a major hassle to lose a good a translator since there are not really that many of them out there.

But large agencies (and some small ones definitely too) don’t believe that it is important to establish a relationship of trust and accountability in both directions between a translator and  an agency. They mostly consider translators interchangeable and replaceable entries in a software database and in a mathematical formula. You can also tell them easily: they send translators unsolicited forms to be filled out for their database. It saves them a lot of time when you do this work for them and they really do need you to be listed in their database because you can’t really expect them to remember you as an individual. This kind of unsolicited form tells me the following: “You are nobody to me since you are not even worth a phone call, but I can probably figure out how to make a buck out of the work of a nobody like you.”

Call me an egomaniac, but I believe that any of my customers, whether an agency, a law firm or a corporation, is much easier to replace than this patent translator after almost a quarter century of experience in my field.

When I got fired from a job more than 24 years ago, it was such a huge blow to my considerable ego that my freelance career was launched almost immediately. At this point in my life I could no longer be an employee even if I could make as much as I make as a freelancer, which is doubtful. I am so opinionated, and I talk back. I did not use to do that when I was an employee.

If I were not a self-employed translator who spends his weekends translating arcane Japanese patents (although I could start doing that on Monday) because for some reason I enjoy matching Japanese characters with English words that make sense, I would be an unemployed former employee who keeps getting fired from his job due to his incompatibility with the corporate culture. Although the corporate culture did change since the times when I was an employee, it only changed for worse.

Unlike your typical Wall Street banker or CEO, I don’t believe that profit is or should be the most important thing in our world, in fact, the only thing that matters.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?



  1. Amen to this post.


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